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Published: October 18th 2009
Another early start today, another glimpse of a beautiful red sunrise I was too tired and cold to appreciate and another almost silent breakfast as the volunteers huddled on the wooden bench outside the kitchen cradling hot drinks and staring bleery-eyed at our food.
At 8am we set off for our first duty of the day. I was on truck cleaning so Glenn and I walked through the deserted car park to the nursery and fumbled around looking for brooms and cleaning cloths. The two safari trucks were parked one behind the other in the car park, the doors already unlocked for us. We took a vehicle each and climbed in. Although the older volunteers had assured me truck cleaning was the easy job and shouldnt take more than ten minutes I realised the ten minute version of the job would be to give it a quick sweep with the broom and then leave. A quick sweep with the broom was not going to get all the sand out of the truck and despite the fact the truck would be full of sand again after the first morning drive I decided I was going to do a proper job. (Maybe my
dedication will wane as the days pass but this was my first morning duty and I determined to do a good job). I wiped down all the seats and after finding the broom only really fit in the middle aisle and couldnt reach under the seats, took to using the cloth on the floor too. Glenn was amused when he found me in an acrobatic postion, sprawled upside-down off one seat, hand groping under the one in front, one foot hooked into a metal bar for balance. We left the trucks and did a spot of litter picking around the car park. I wasnt quite as dedicated to this part of the job as without a litter picker of some decent gloves I wasnt going to pick up anything more dubious looking than a few empty drinks bottles and crisp packets.
As we finished our job and washed in the public toilets (also aptly named lions and lionesses) we walked down to cub world where I found Em-J moaning as she cleaned out the cub enclosures with Chris. It didnt smell too bad to me but then my nose was nowhere near the contents of the plastic bin liners they
were carrying about.
The cubs were all fed (messy mixes of hard biscuits and milk from the looks of it) and after watching them bury their faces into the sloppy mess we all dispersed to our jobs for the morning.
The staff split the cubs across the two enclosures so the public would be able to see white and brown, big and small cubs when they went in the enclosure. Kirsty came in and grabbed a cub and told me to get the one behind her. I did as I was bid and grabbed the lion cub around the middle hefting him up into my arms. I cant believe that last night I was wary of touching the cubs and this morning I just walked in and picked one up. I somehow managed to get the biggest, heaviest cub. He hung like a dead weight in my arms as I staggered out of the enclosure and into the next one, kicking the gate behind me. I made it into the enclosure before he finally slipped out of my grasp and I went back outside to join Carmel on giraffe duty.
I found Carmel already near the giraffes and she walked
me through the routine. She had the float money which we fetch from the curio shop and a box of pellets out from the hovel (a tiny stone building near the giraffes where we store food and cleaning equipment). We sat on a bench in the sun and started scooping pellets into paper bags when Glenn wandered down to watch the hard work! Giraffe duty involves greeting the public and offering them the bags of food to buy, selling the bags at 20 rand and tearing off a ticket from the book to keep count of how much we sell per day.... oh and generally reclining on the sun warmed bench relaxing.
Carmel and I were kept quite busy. Apparently the lion park is usually fairly quiet and the crowds come in on the weekends. I am unfortunate in the time of my arrival since it is also a long weekend holiday here in South Africa which means there are far more visitors than usual. I didn have time to study my giraffe FAQ responses but fortunately I was so busy throwing bags of pellets at tourists that I didnt have time to answer any questions anyway.
At 11 am
we were free to leave our post. The members of staff took over all our duties as all of the volunteers were due to go on the game drive at 11.30. I was really excited about going on the game drive since it was the Big Feed where all the lions in the camps get fresh meat. I settled onto a seat next to Iris and wondered where the rest of our group had got to. Em-J soon found us and we saw some of the others getting into the other truck. Carolina was soon running around trying to herd up the rest of us and make sure we all got to go. The Big Feed only happens once a week so unlike everything else at the lion park we wont have many opportunities to do it. Finally we were all squeezed into the trucks amogst the tourists (which were already covered in sand after the first morning drive, er the trucks that is, not the tourists) with a couple of the volunteers going in Earls car. We set off and I started to doze as we drove through the antelope camp and I heard more-or-less the same lecture as
When we reached the lion camp we drove around and found a place to stop the truck with a good view of a grassy mound where the meat would be thrown. I was surprised how many tourists had brought their cars in and felt sorry for the lions who would have to eat within a circle of cars. The meat was flung out and the lions soon came running. We were in camp 2 so where there are several young cubs. They were all rather excited and gambled about bumping into the lionesses, pawing at each other and generally putting their faces in their dinner and getting blood all over their chops. I got quite good at balancing on the seat holding my camera up through the metal bars of the truck. Some of the tourists obviously valued their photography more than their safety and I even saw one man with his car window rolled right down, leaning out with his camera as a lionesses ran towards him. I think it was probably only the fact she had a huge piece of meat in her mouth that stopped her taking a swipe at the man.
We inched the truck
along to where the lion had claimed the best piece of meat and was sitting alternatively eating and staring disdainfully and the strange creatures pointing cameras at him. Eventually he got tired of being the centre of attention, picked up his dinner and stalked off.
We drove onto the next camp to see the white lions. I have to say the blood looked far more dramatic smeared across the white faces! We found one of the lionesses chewing on a horse leg behind a tree. It was rather amusing to see it was a complete leg with the hoof still attached. I have however noticed that despite the horse recycling policy all I saw was horse legs and haunches. I suppose horse heads would be a bit too much for the public to watch! We slowly circled the camp and I was dleighted when we spied the white male out in the open. I stood on my toes hooking one finger through the roof of the truck for balance and trained my camera on him. He was far less photogenic than the other male but by a lucky fluke I was taking a picture at the only time he actually
raised his head and looked our way.
We drove back to the park and Em-J and I had lunch at the restaurant. I waltzed into the kitchen being as friendly and charming as possible to place our orders. The kitchen staff seem to view us volunteers as a bit of a nuisence and certainly dont go out of their way to inform us when our food is ready. Em-J and I took turns at popping our heads into the kitchen and finally we found our plates sitting on the metal shelf and hurried back to our table.
I didnt have any other duties until 4pm. It would have been the perfect time to visit the cubs but unfortunately the place was crawling with tourists. There were so many today they had to open both of the cub enclosures to the public for touch-a-cub. The cubs were apparently getting very grouchy and the staff were getting increasinly annoyed by the number of people who couldnt follow the basic rules of being in with the cubs.
I retreated to our campsite. No-one was about so I took a book and sat on the decking in the sun until it was time for
the evening feed at 4pm. I found Iris and Emily who were sharing feeding duties with me and we walked into the nursery. Emily showed us where things are and although she has been here a while and seems to know what shes doing I was surprised none of the staff came to check on us.
I prepared the food for the meerkats. I grated one apple and one carrot for each dish which looked quite appetising until I added half a tin of cat food to it. I also fed Nigel, the steenbok who gets a plate full of pellets and a handful of cabbage leaves. Iris and Emily meanwhile prepared food for Georgina our baby giraffe. Goergina gets a mixture of 1 litre of milk with two egg yolks mixed into it. They prepared four bottles for her, fetched the plastic teat and placed the bottles in buckets of warm water to heat them. Taking all the food we walked down to the meerkats first. Emily opened the metal gate and hopped over the stone wall (Id been wondering how people got in and out of the pen) and then we walked over to Georgina who was looking
very excited to see us.
Emily fed her the first bottle, fixing the teat securely to the mouth of the bottle and then climbing up onto the fence. Georgina guzzled down the bottle, dribbling everywhere, long strands of saliva floating on the breeze and getting us all rather messy. Iris and I both took a turn at feeding her. I loved it. She has such a soft muzzle and she kept lipping my fingers as I held the bottom of the teat to stop her swallowing it. She drained the bottle and I had to prize her mouth off it at the end as she wouldnt belive there was nothing more coming out of it. Emily tried to feed her the fourth bottle but shed apparently decided three was enough and showed no intrest in Emilys offering at all. We tipped out the water and gathered our things to take back to the nursery when Kieranran up and threw his camera at Iris asking her to get pictures of him. Kieran is an ex-7-week-volunteer who has stayed on for a few days of play. Hes a zoo keeper in Germany and is absolutely besotted with the lions (and they with
him). The truck with the lions food on drove past and he and Iris both leapt on the back and rode to the enclosures. Emily took the bucket off me and told me to go and watch. I hurried over to see the staff preparing to feed the larger cubs. They stood on the trailer and picked up large bloody chunks of meat which they flung over the fence. The older cubs charged snarling at the food ripping at it and pulling it away from each other. Poor Princess isnt big enough to compete with the larger lions and darted from one piece of a meat to another until finally finding a piece no-one else wanted to take off her.
Afterwards we all went in to play with the young cubs, and surprisingly the staff left us alone there again. Perhaps it is simply because Kieran is with us and they trust him to look after the cubs and lock up properly at the end. Whatever the reason we were left alone and were able to spend as long as we liked in with the cubs. Kieran was clearly delighted and the cubs clambered all over him. He offered to
give one to me but they refused to be parted from their favourite play thing. It was only when Kieran went into the other enclosure that they decided I was worth taking notice off. One clambered onto me and proceeded to worry at my shirt, while another followed behind biting the first ones tail. I soon had three cubs writhing on my lap all trying to eat each other and me. Kieran came back in and offered to take one off me but they stubbornly stayed on their new climbing frame. Eventually Chris and Kieran each had to pull a cub off me and I was able to move again. We sat chatting and playing with the cubs as it grew dark. It was quite surreal to be sitting on the ground playing with lion cubs in the dark with no one else around. The cubs all seemed to wake up as it got darker and their play grew more boistrous.
Suddenly a commotion broke out in the next pen and the older cubs all started running backwards and forwards, winding round each other, panting and growling. The mad behaviour seemed to be catching as the younger cubs started racing
around and the other animals called out. Kieran and Chris were standing by the interconnecting fence when the larger cubs reared up and placed their paws on the fence. The guys decided to copy them and soon both species were growling and giggling at each other. It was a lot of fun. Finally we decided it was getting too dark and while we couldnt see much anymore the cubs certainly could. Not wishing to be ambushed from behind we said goodbye to the cubs and walked back to camp where the remaining volunteers were jealous wed managed to stay in with the cubs again. Since it was past 7pm half of us headed for the kitchens and the other half for the showers (interesting the different priorities some of us have... or maybe its more to do with whos been on enclosure cleaning duty today!)
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